Monday, February 28, 2005

A note on the comments

As you can see, I have added a "recent comments" list to the sidebar. Yay!

I also wanted to mention that no one has to post as "anonymous" anymore. Blogger recently updated it's comments software so you can post as "anonymous," "blogger" (where you have to enter your blogger id & password) or "other." If you choose "other" you can type in your name & either a website address or an email address.

Perhaps people just like posting as "anonymous" -- that's cool. But, personally, I like it better when people use their names (real or screen).

Fatphobia on TV

After watching the most recent episode of CSI I mentioned to several people that I had now officially seen one of the most fatphobic depictions of fat women I've ever seen on TV (and that's saying something). Sure, the writers tried to make the main characters come off as more "open-minded" and "accepting" than most people, but frankly, I felt it was a half-assed attempt and couldn't override the fatphobic premise of the storyline (fat woman smothers thin man by passing out on top of him).

Paul from Big Fat Blog didn't see the episode, so he quotes BFBer Natalie's take on the show.
In a nutshell, a man was found dead and it was determined thta something heavy basically smothered him. It did turn out to be a fat woman; she'd passed out on top of him. (The actress was really quite good--she was a real fat woman and not what passes for fat in Hollywood.)

Lots of shots of fabulous fat women, comments that people can be pigs and that it's difficult being a fat person, and only *one* hint that fat is unhealthy--the woman who'd passed out had type 2 diabetes and hypertension and she shouldn't have been drinking in the first place.

There *were* some problems with the show--there was a bit of a freak show ambience about it, but I've noticed that on other episodes, so I'm liable to chalk that up to being a quirk of the show and not anything specific. I was also irritated that the way the guy died was due to the woman passing out on top of him and smothering him with her fat (le sigh)--I would have been much happier if she did kill him because she was pissed at him for wanting to have sex with fat women but not wanting to be seen with them in the elevator, if she'd killed him for being ashamed of his desires.

Overall, it was much much much better than I was expecting. The lone fat joke (something about a stampede) was promptly shot down as totally inappropriate and discriminatory and wrong--and the women were apologized to for the statements. Definitely wasn't perfect, but it could have been much, much, much worse.

After having read this, I'd have to say that I'll stick with my original opinion. The problems with the episode (some of which Natalie covered) outweigh the positives about the episode.

Some of the other commenters summed up my objections better than I could:
from 2dayis4me:

Carolyn, you are not the only one who doubts whether that cause of death is actully possible. Yeah, I know, its fiction.

It _is_ what thin folks (especially men) fear though.

What is that observation about the more power women get (through various feminist movements) the smaller women are supposed to be (physically) in order to be deemed "fashionable?"

Which goes into a lot deeper cultural analysis of why there is so much fear of women actually taking up space, having body mass, etc.

The cultural fear is that if women actually occupy more than a minimal amount of space it will result in the death of men. Y'know, men'll be smothered, crushed, killed, etc. You see this fear articulated in men's (hate) speech about fat (women) and airline seats too... (note, you don't see hate speech about NFL linebackers "taking up too much space on, or 'crashing' aircraft" due to their body mass...)

Now THAT would be a cultural fear worth exploring in a plot line. Maybe. If done well.

All I can say is yes! exactly!

From pani113:

Well, I would have to respectfully disagree. To me, I saw very little improvement over the same old stereotypes. The perpuation of the fat woman is dangerous myth - she can kill you if you sleep with her. Enchanced of course by the fat she was diabetic, seen by our culture as a punishment for being fat, and then she got drunk on top of it.

And you are right, the whole thing is improbable. Posters on other SA boards have made the point that they failed to take weight distribution into account in their lame test. She would have to be standing on his chest for that premise to work. Someone else also asked how come we never see plots where the 280lb linebackers never crush their 110lb dates? (Cause we don't irrationally fear large unless it is associated with women.) Most of my partners have been ample (at least the ones worth remembering), some at least 260lbs and I haven't come close to being suficated.

Another stereotype that always makes me cringe is the desparate fat women which was also present in the episode. This stereotype is very dangerous. I internalized it as a young girl and have always acted in exactly the other direction. It had a very detrimental effect on my career because I was perceived as being almost rude to men in general. Well, this is a huge factor in where my attitudes came from.

True, there was some modest progress but not enough for me to outweight the damage.

Skeptyk said:

Ambivalent. I mostly did not like it, since the fat women were presented as caricatures, or, as in the case of the one "whodunit", as a tragic, lonely loser.

Though I think a lot of folks had hopes that Grissom would be a more active advocate, with his usual nerdy philosopher lines, he only had a couple, and he did some doubletakes which seemed out of character for the "respect-all-beings" attitude the character usuallytakes. As for Greg, I can only hope they were setting him up to have a fat girlfriend soon.

I wish there were some social/political activism evident at the conference, but it was presented as a place to buy pretty things in X-sizes or get laid by guys who wouldn't be caught alive with you.

I would have liked to see someone reading a flyer with names of workshops like "Gastric Bypass: the Mutilation Market".

There were some minor characters who looked like they were going to be solid SA-types, but then displayed some fatalistic "better-get-laid-where-I-can" stereotype,presented as icky pathetic, not as women in charge of some sexual fun. And the one woman who dissed this activity in her sisters looked on THEM as pathetic, and broke ranks with the other purple lingerie buyers at the police station.

If a TV story line has typical hardbody android types shtupping everything in sight, that is treated as normal, healthy, minor sluttiness, but if a some of the folks are fat, doing essentially the same scene, they, and anyone who sleeps with them, are seen as mockingly pathetic or sick.

I'm so sick of the disgusting display of fatphobia that exists on TV. I'm not going to happy about a few crumbs of "good" treatment enmeshed in a horrible premise. What we need is better television.

Hell, even Television Without Pity had problems with this episode.

The Power of Words

Last fall, des femmes began highlighting the use of sexist language by progressive male bloggers. She pointed out the inherent harm in oppressive language, and refused to just sit by and "take it" because these men were otherwise progressive, liberal men. Many women and a few men avidly supported her and her conclusions.

But sexism isn't the only problem that otherwise progressive and liberal (and even feminist) bloggers have when it comes to words they choose to use. There are many times when reading over an otherwise excellent feminist dialogue I come across offensive and oppressive language. I've seen feminist women insulting those they don't like (or agree with) by calling them "fat," for example.

The most common example, however, is using the word "retarded" to describe a person, opinion or behavior. I just don't get it. How can the same people who will condemn the use of sexist language (because the understand the inherent harm in using such language) then turn around and use oppressive language themselves?

I know that back in the 80's, "retarded" (or some version of the word) came into fashion to describe something (or someone) that somone found to be "stupid." I was fortunate (for lack of a better word) in that I never picked up that habit. For one thing, my mother was a Special Ed. teacher, and anyone who dared utter that word in my house got a very long lecture on the subject. It was easier to just avoid getting into the habit. But the other reason is that I, myself, worked with people with disabilities (both mentally and physically). When I was 15 or 16 I took a training course to be a "Special Sitter," wherein I was specially trained to "babysit" people with mental and/or physical disabilities -- not on a long-term basis, just for a night here and there when the parents wanted to have an evening out for themselves, that sort of thing. I was given the opportunity to get to know a wide variety of adults and children with various disabilities. Through my experiences, I learned that these adults and children weren't much different than me or my friends (although, some of them were a hell of a lot nicer, quite frankly). The thought of using a word like "retarded" as an insult was abhorant to me.

There are generally three types of people who use the word "retarded" (for something other than referring to a mentally retarded person):
  • The person who uses the word out of habit, but then catches him/herself and apologizes. This person makes an effort to not use the word and genuinely feels bad when s/he slips. I can completely understand this type of person. I still find myself doing this with words like "gyp" or "lame," although much less often as time goes on. I have no hard feelings toward this person, because I do think they are genuinely trying to make a change in their language.
  • The person who uses the word out of habit, but then makes some comment about knowing it's not "PC" (oftentimes rolling their eyes while they say this). This person generally has no intention of ever changing their habits, regardless of the fact that they know it's offensive. I probably have the least amount of respect for this person. This person knows it's offensive, they just don't care. Really, why even bother with the half-assed apology? Just admit that you don't give a shit about using oppressive language and be done with it.
  • The person who simply refuses to acknowledge or recognize the oppressive nature of the term. OK, sure, better than recognizing the oppressive nauture of the word and still using it anyway. But, come on... How is this any better than using the word "pussy" or "girl" as an insult?
When you use a word that describes a person or group of people (like fat, girl, pussy, gay, and yes, retarded) as an insult, you are making a judgement about that person (or group of people). You are declaring them "lesser than." Being an otherwise decent progressive, liberal, feminist, what have you, doesn't change that. As the saying goes, "No One is Truly Free While Others Are Oppressed."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Women in Blogging Week

The ridiculously assinine assumptions that there aren't any women bloggers has reared it's ugly head again. And in response, women around the blogoverse have declared this Women in Blogging Week. I've been somewhat bombarded with other stuff, so I'm jumping in a bit late.

So, today I'll start with Worshipping at the Altar of Mediocrity. And not just because she started off with a link to me. ;) Actually, it's because she has a great, comprehensive list of list of women bloggers responding to the "ridiculosity" that started all of this.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Book Meme

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

The only way my father could think of to instill in me a sense of my heritage was to take me to dubbed Italian versions of the ancient Greek myths.
--Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides

via Media Girl

This is why Canada is so great

This is a bit old (a few weeks). I don't care. It's too good not to post.

Back on January 26th, CBC's news show The Fifth Estate (which I have not seen, but my SO says is excellent) broadcast a one-hour special on the hijacking of the American media by conservative bullies. As would be necessary for any show on this subject, Ann Coulter was interviewed.

As Laura (from Is There a Blogger in the House) pointed out: "And the smake, it is laid down upon thee, and in all thy obnoxious glory, I say to you: HA!"

Coulter: "Canada used to be one of our most loyal friends and vice-versa. I mean Canada sent troops to Vietnam - was Vietnam less containable and more of a threat than Saddam Hussein?"

McKeown interrupts: "Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter: "I don't think that's right."

McKeown: "Canada did not send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter (looking desperate): "Indochina?"

McKeown: "Uh no. Canada ...second World War of course. Korea. Yes. Vietnam No."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, took a pass on Vietnam."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, Australia was there, not Canada."

Coulter: "I think Canada sent troops."

McKeown: "No."

Coulter: "Well. I'll get back to you on that."

McKeown tags out in script:

"Coulter never got back to us -- but for the record, like Iraq, Canada sent no troops to Vietnam."

via This is Rumor Control

Friday, February 18, 2005

Civility in Congress

There has been a lot of interest in the civility discussion in the blogoverse lately. (Definitely check out all of the posts, if you haven't already. Quite good reading.)

And what good timing. As it turns out, the issue of "civility" has also become an important topic in Congress.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., is fed up with the name-calling and nastiness that he sees between Republicans and Democrats. He says it's getting in the way of House members doing their jobs.

He's joined with Democrat Steve Israel of New York to create a bipartisan caucus aimed at promoting greater civility among House members.

"I've seen an exponential increase in the level of rancor, in the level of acrimony, in the level of politicizing everything ... which we believe disserves the Congress, disserves the country, and disserves our constituents," Johnson told reporters Wednesday.

The new caucus will meet regularly to promote mutual respect and discourage personal attacks. They want lawmakers "to disagree agreeably," Johnson said.

Hee Hee.

An Exploration of Deaf Culture

Recently, Talk of the Nation on NPR had an interesting discussion on the Exploration of Deaf Culture. Neal Conan (of TotN) talked to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, authors of the new book Inside Deaf Culture, and King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University (who, btw, became the first deaf President of Gallaudet in 1988 after a student-led protest demanding a deaf President).

For those who missed the show, NPR has provided the transcript, free of charge. I highly recommend taking a look at it. It's a fascinating interview about a fascinating subject. I don't think most people are aware of the richness, diversity, and the long history of deaf culture, and I think that's a shame.
The millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing form a unique community, a culture, they say, shaped by their shared experience and their shared language. ASL, American Sign Language, is currently the second most taught language on college campuses. A major Broadway play using deaf and hearing actors is touring the country. At the same time, deaf culture is both changed and challenged by technology. There are plenty of divisions and arguments within deaf culture, but the deaf and hard of hearing share another universal trait--the incomprehension of the hearing world around them that sees their condition as a disability, as a handicap. For those who live without sound, that absence is the starting point of an identity.
For a while, back when I lived in Rochester, NY, I was somewhat involved (although, as an outsider, it was more of a peripheral involvement) in the very strong deaf culture that exists in that city. The knowledge that I gained has greatly benefitted my life, and I truly value all of the experiences and friendships I gained through that involvement.
While not everyone will be able to get involved with the deaf culture, I do believe it would be highly valuable to everyone to learn at least a bit about it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Feminism and Civility and Communication (Oh My!)

Over on Alas, there has been an on-going discussion about "civility." Since the thread has been closed before I could make a few comments of my own, I figured I'd go ahead and re-open the discussion here.

Over the years, a number of studies have pointed out that, in the "real world," men tend to interrupt women more often than other men, and far more often than women interrupt either men or other women.

Theoretically, in the world of the internet, this will happen much less frequently. On a blog or discussion board, there's simply no way to interrupt a person, right? No one can even read what they've had to say until they've written it out entirely, proofread it, and so on.

In practice, however, it seems that men have simply found a new way to interrupt -- the all too common "thread drift" (or "derailment"). Now, I'm not saying that thread drift, to one extent or another, isn't natural (in many cases it is). Nor am I saying that women never engage in it (directly or indirectly). But, in my experience, the most egregious offenses have been done by men. In fact, I pretty much gave up posting any threads about a month back (and then went on to create this new blog) because I was so sick of the flagrant disregard for what I was saying, and the constant need to dramatically drift the thread onto an entirely different subject within the first couple of posts. Admittedly, this was due to a particular man at the time, but it made me take a closer look at other instances where it had happened, and sure enough, it was primarily men. Some of the men were self-proclaimed anti-feminists, others were self-proclaimed [pro-]feminists.

As I said, there are definitely times when thread drift just naturally occurs during the course of a conversation. And I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about total thread derailment. What I see happening, more often than not, is a few men who suddenly feel that they are not a part of the conversation -- either because they don't have enough knowledge about the subject matter, or it is simply of no interest to them. Rather than simply sitting back and listening for a change, they attempt to change the subject entirely. Their feelings of entitlement allow them to do this without nary a shred of remorse. Hell, in most cases, I'd suppose, it allows them to do this without nary a shred of recognition of what they are doing.

In the "civility" thread (ironically), this happened again -- with Rad Geek and Foolish Owl leading the way. It started out pretty typical -- men, unable to join the conversation as it is, change the subject in order to be able to engage in some conversation. This time, however, they were asked (politely) to stop their derailment, and even given an alternative thread in which to discuss their obviously important discussion. (Yes, this polite request was made by a man -- credit where credit is due.) Yet, that still didn't seem to be enough. Foolish Owl had to continue on with his oh-so-important response, ending it with a suggestion that they take Amp's advice (thereby acknowledging that he did, in fact, see the request, and simply chose to ignore it).

Funnie responded:

Jesus Christ this is so fucking classic.

Either the thread drift is distracting or it isn’t. How very goddamned male to go ahead and DO WHAT YOU WERE JUST ASKED NOT TO DO in order to get a word in and then SUGGEST THAT YOUR OPPONENT BE THE FIRST TO PLAY BY THE RULES.

So civil! So polite! No personal attacks in Owl’s posts, nosirree! Just the classic war of attrition against women, in which space is taken up by “reasonable” men who say things like I don’t think it makes sense to argue that civility or debate are inherently patriarchal, or otherwise inherently oppressive and then politely continue doing whatever the fuck they feel like doing, wherever and however they feel like doing it.

Hostile? Yeah, but I can understand. It is "fucking classic." Some men (Owl and Jake Squid) have gone on to say that they don't understand where the hostility is coming from -- that they honestly don't understand what the serious offense is, and therefore the hostility is unwarranted and instead, Funnie (or women, in general, perhaps) should have spent more of her/our energy on even more handholding and explaining.

Frankly, I cannot understand why this isn't as plain as day -- but then, I don't have the male entitlement that would allow me not to see what is so incredibly rude about Owl's actions. And, even more importantly, I'm sick to death of spending more time and energy on handholding and educating than anything else. Funnie did explain what was wrong -- what pissed her off. Maybe men should spend more of their time and energy really listening to what is being said. It's really not a different language.

This is but one example (among many) of the double standards of "civility" enforced by men; of a civility that by and large benefits the oppressor and keeps the oppressed silent.